Vague guidelines dictated from on high tend to empower rather than challenge the Powers that Be. In the world of education, the Powers that Be are those pushing Constructivism, a teaching ideology at great odds with empirical findings about how children learn. And the vague guidelines are the Common Core Standards for K12 education. As I and others have noted (most recently Barry Garelick at the Atlantic.com), the new Common Core Standards already appear to be enabling further penetration of Constructivism into America's classrooms.
A number of people who commented on Barry Garelick's article took issue with this, defending the Common Core as not favoring any particular educational ideology. But what matters is actual, not potential interpretation--and specifically interpretation by those in power. For this, one need look no further than the most recent Education Week.
Consider, for example, Edweek's article on the Common Core language arts standards, which call for an emphasis on reading and writing in all academic subjects.
What the Common Core Standards for English and Language Arts actually say in terms of goals for interdisciplinary literacy is mostly innocuous, unless you find these disturbing in their extreme obviousness: the ability to cite textual evidence, determine central ideas, follow multi-step directions, understand key terms, distinguish facts from speculation, and (drumroll!) read at grade level in all subjects.
Just a few goals show Constructivist influences: integrating verbal information with information from charts or diagrams (Constructivists love "visual representations"), and analyzing the author's organization and purpose (Constructivists are obsessed with making students write about authors' intent).
But, when it comes to the Constructivists and the Common Core, author intent may be totally irrelevant. The Edweek article opens with the following Common Core-inspired practices:
The 4th graders in Mason A. Kuhn's classroom recently wrapped up an unusual assignment: Write a science-themed book and make the target audience not their teacher but 2nd graders at Shell Rock Elementary in northeastern Iowa. One student wrote and illustrated a cartoon about a feline named Space Kat trying to figure out how to power up her rocket ship to get back home. Along the way, the story explored concepts such as gravity and friction.It's one thing to make sure students understand their science textbooks; quite another to take time away from science for drawing cartoons about science concepts for 2nd graders and writing about science writing. Is this what the authors of the Common Core Standards for English and Language Arts intend?
At Lewis County High School in Vanceburg, Ky., science teacher Sara M. Poeppelman asks her chemistry students to closely read and analyze an essay Albert Einstein penned in 1946 for a popular science magazine.
If not, it is their responsibility to look at what's happening and say so.